This isn’t an article I’m particularly comfortable writing. Destiny is a big deal, probably the biggest deal in gaming since Halo, and it’s set to be even bigger than that. At least, that’s the (ten year) plan.
Bungie have set their sights higher than most AAA studios would ever dare to and as you are no doubt already aware, the expectations of most gamers have skyrocketed to match their ambition.
As is always the case in these situations, with the marketing machine in full swing trying to generate as much hype as possible (the $500 Million budget is reputed to be a load of nonsense, but there can be no doubt that this game is going have to shift a lot of units to cover the investment), gamers have been near hysterical with anticipation. The snippets of gameplay, screenshots and news has led everyone to believe that this game is going to be very special indeed.
After having played the beta on Xbox One, I can say with some confidence that you are not going to be disappointed.
To release a beta that is reputed to be a small fraction of the game and for that beta to be almost big enough to qualify as a full game in itself really is something. Add to that a fluid matchmaking system that allows you to move between campaign missions, strike missions and PvP with little to no effort, delightfully intuitive menu systems that are unlike anything on a console I have ever seen and some of the nicest graphics that have been put together with no end of love and you have a game that is already beyond impressive. Put some totally awesome gameplay mechanics at the heart of it and you have a game that I personally doubt I will grow tired of for some years.
It feels like Halo. There, I said it.
That, let’s be clear, is not a bad thing. Bungie invented Halo and in doing so completely reinvented the FPS genre (or certainly gave it something no one had seen before), so for them to stick to what they know best really shouldn’t be seen as a negative. There have been calls for Bungie to deliver something totally original or at the very least a complete departure from their previous works and I can only ask – why?
Bungie make amazing shooters, it’s what they do. You wouldn’t ask Rolls Royce to start making food mixers simply because they did such a good job of their last car and you want to see something different. I would rather a great studio was slightly risk averse in that respect and given how wonderful the Halo franchise was and continues to be there’s a great deal of sense in sticking with what you know.
That having been said, Destiny is very much its own thing and it has staked a claim to some inviting new territory. Bungie have worked hard to produce an MMO that works on consoles. A few companies have tried before and have met with mixed results at best, but Bungie have wisely chosen to keep things really simple. It’s a shooter, just unlike anything you’ve played before, and with lots of people.
Some people have likened it to Borderlands and while that can be seen as a great compliment I would have to say that the similarity ends with the large maps and you shooting at stuff. Enemies are smart and they use cover and flanking techniques that can often catch you off guard, reacting to the severity and accuracy of your attacks appropriately. Naturally, they’re still AI’s and you can rely on them to stick their heads out often enough to all but guarantee a satisfying headshot and they will often cluster in that way that AI’s tend to do, but get enough of them in one battle and you will quickly realise what it means to be pressured. It’s all very familiar territory, but it’s been elevated to another level.
As they did with Halo, Bungie have taken a set of familiar elements and woven them into something magical. After all, this game has wizards…on the moon!
Which brings me rather neatly to the voice acting. The alpha test brought about some serious concerns about Peter Dinklage’s contribution and by extension Bungie’s ability to deliver an absorbing story. The delivery was flat and uninspired at the alpha stage, but hey, I mean, come on – alpha. Also people were a little concerned about the line describing wizards on the moon, but I say bring it on.
Having played the beta I have to say I didn’t experience any disconnect. I found the voice acting from an amazing cast including Peter Dinklage, Bill Nighy, Nathan Fillion (Yes!), Peter Stormare, Lance Reddick and even Shohreh Aghdashloo from Mass Effect compelling and engaging. The world of Destiny is slightly melancholy, exciting and heroic without ever being blunt or overbearing, showing all of Bungie’s innate storytelling calibre that is so well suited to a sprawling epic like this.
The one flaw with most MMO’s (for me at least) is that the story’s scope often outreaches the player’s interest, becoming diluted and strained the further you go, resulting in the grind that is so often associated with the genre. I didn’t feel that once while playing, despite revisiting the same missions and locations many times. The world that Destiny is set in has been made with such love and care that it draws you in from the moment you see the loading screen.
Bungie have shown that they aren’t afraid to be a little eccentric with their storytelling. After all, who else could get away with a scifi shooter that has wizards? Just awesome (and the wizards are utter bastards, by the way). And it’s a compelling story that never gets in the way of the action, which is just great.
You get to choose from three classes, which are, to be honest, pretty similar on the face of it, with a delightfully streamlined yet comprehensive leveling system that straddles all gameplay modes without ever feeling awkward. Put all three together in a fight, though, and what you get is something not far removed from alchemy (like I said – wizards, you see the pattern now, yes?)
The desire to work as a team has been the elusive quicksilver of studios for years. Compelling people to play together rather than as a group of individuals with their own agendas has been almost impossible to tackle, the incentives often meaning little in the face of an overwhelming desire to improve one’s own KD ratio, but Bungie have nailed this element as well with a simple dynamic that allows the three strong fireteam to create some truly balletic moments with a combination of special skills that come together like the best possible recipe.
Reviving downed team mates is as essential as the destruction itself, but even that takes strategic planning with one team member creating a distraction while the other makes the revive as your enemies will punish any foolhardy attempts at rescue with merciless efficiency.
Taking one of the hulking spider-like tank down as a team in the beta’s only Strike mission is a great feeling that’s hard to compare to any other game as it offers all of the challenge and spectacle without any of the boredom or frustration that usually comes from similar boss fights. Rather than the standard rinse and repeat scenarios you typically find yourself in this actually feels like a proper battle, fluid and unpredictable.
Time will tell if this kind of appeal holds out. Destiny is, after all, reputed to have a very long life ahead of it, but if this beta is anything to go by I think we’re going to be busy fighting the darkness for years to come.